When Jay Parr was selecting titles for his Banned Books course, he wanted to offer students something different. So he stayed away from “obvious choices” on the American Library Association’s banned books list and dug deeper.
Parr, a lecturer in UNC Greensboro’s online Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies (BLS) program, chose books with interesting backstories, such as:
- Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
- D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”
- Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”
- Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”
Parr packed so much literature in the 7-week course—from classical, medieval, and modern lit to sociology and children’s books—that he was worried it would overwhelm students. Most of the feedback so far has been positive. It’s a lot of reading, students say, but it’s worth it.
Connecting with Literature
Students are asked to critique a broad spectrum of literature in the course and put the book bans into historical context. They look at why the books were considered objectionable and whether they have endured over time.
“My goal is for students to be able to connect with these books, to read them critically, and to be able to think critically about the challenges these works have faced and whether those challenges have merit,” he says.
Students make substantial arguments for or against the bans through discussion posts, critical responses, and essays. They explore context, form arguments, and defend their positions.
“There’s a lot of room for people to form their own opinions—and conflicting opinions—and to debate those conflicting opinions,” Parr says.
Building Broad Skills
Banned Books is one of many courses that develop broad skills that are valuable in today’s workplace. As students analyze the books and defend their positions, they build critical thinking and communication skills.
Parr says the BLS program was designed to have students step outside the boxes of individual disciplines. That’s why his literature course ties in history, sociology, and other subjects. Sometimes students also make connections with what they’re seeing in the news.
“Anytime you can apply an historical situation to current events, you’ve got one more tool to view that which is going on right now,” he says.
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